Our Picture Book Reorg Categories

My library is just completing phase one of our own picture book reorganization! Piloted by the Darien Library, a picture book reorganization project sorts your picture book collection into broad subject categories instead of alphabetizing by the author’s last name. It is intended to help families browse more easily to find topics of interest to their children–and help children be more independent in finding books as well.


I was not the architect of our initiative, so rather than outline all the logistics, I will point you to others who have written about their projects: Katie and Amy and the ALSC Blog or the Darien Library slideshow.

The Thomas Memorial Library in Maine even ran a little survey to help decide what to call each section! Or check out the Picture Book Project pages from the Marin County Free Library.

I will say that we managed to do our reorg across multiple branches with a floating collection and with no library closures, so while it seems like a huge undertaking, it is totally doable.

I read this post recently: From the Short Stacks, which provides an update on their reorg project and a reporting on a few tweaks they made to the categories, and it inspired me to at least share our categories, in case you’re about to sort all YOUR books, and one more perspective helps you clarify your thinking!

Every library does this a little differently! Here’s the 10 categories we ended up with, and the little blurbs I wrote to describe each one.

There’s so many things for children to do and try! In this section you’ll find stories about play, sports, arts and crafts, reading and the library, music, and dance. And more!

Young children are fascinated by the creatures that share their world. This section includes stories about animals at the zoo, in the wild, under the ocean, and on the farm–as well as pets, insects, and dinosaurs.

Some special days are different than others! Find out why with the books in this section about holidays, religious observances, and events such as birthdays and weddings.

Children begin learning and thinking about the world by putting objects and ideas into categories. Look in this section for books about colors, shapes, letters, and numbers, but also other ideas such as time, opposites, sizes, and patterns.

Growing Up
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers experience one major “first” after another! Books in this section will help them explore important milestones, rituals, and relationships. Topics include potty training, welcoming new siblings, making friends, starting school, establishing bedtime routines, learning about their bodies, as well as books about family members.

More to Explore
The best thing about books is making new discoveries! There’s something for everyone in this section, such as books about real people, and books set in other times and places. You’ll also find longer stories, including Dr Seuss books, and fun surprises such as monsters, ninjas, and pirates.

Nature and Science
As children grow older, they become more and more interested in the world around them. Encourage their wonder with the books in this section about the weather, seasons, mechanics, outer space, geography, and ecosystems.

Popular Characters
It’s so much fun to find a familiar face in a book! Look in this section for characters from movies, TV shows, toys, and new and classic picture book series.

Rhymes, Songs, and Tales
Children’s picture books draw on a rich history of traditional literature. Explore that heritage with books in this section that showcase classic folklore and fairy tales, as well as new twists on old tales. You’ll also find familiar children’s songs, Mother Goose rhymes, and poetry.

Things That Go
How do we get from here to there? Books in this section are full of cars, trucks, trains, planes, construction vehicles, bikes, boats, and even balloons.

A Few Notes:

Animals is intended to be, broadly, animals-acting-like-animals (as much as possible) otherwise half the picture books in the world would end up here.

More to Explore is our “Misc” section. We put monsters over here in the hopes of helping families who wanted to avoid them. We tried really hard to put authors in a subject category, to save our Popular Characters section just for favorite characters, and not favorite authors too. So Richard Scarry is in Concepts and Eric Carle is in Animals. Dr. Seuss is our exception, and is our only author collected in More to Explore.

Growing Up turned out to be way huger than we anticipated. The way we described it, EVERYTHING is about “growing up.” O.o I think my advice here would be to consider separating out the books about families, or maybe friends and families, which would leave the “milestones” topics by themselves.

No, we don’t have a Princesses category! We have Disney princesses in Popular Characters, and all other princessy books go in Rhymes, Songs, and Tales.

We’re still getting used to it, patrons and staff alike, but I love that we did this! How about you? Are you planning a reorg project?

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6 Responses to Our Picture Book Reorg Categories

  1. Awesome! This is something I’ve been interested in for awhile. I’m glad you shared your experience with us; this gives me lots of food for thought.

  2. Amanda says:

    The library system I work for has a couple of test branches doing picture book reorganization. I think they have too many categories; definitely more than yours does! I am also ambivalent about the “Sparkly” category, which is for pink princessy books. I think it is good that the kids know where to look for those books if they like them, but it’s also kindof weird to have a category based on gender…
    The one problem I’ve seen so far is when parents want to find a specific book, they can get really frustrated looking through the categories they think it’s in before asking for help. Once I show them the catalog on the end of the stacks they’re usually ok though.

  3. Kathy Larson says:

    I love Celebrations, we used Traditions, but I LOVE Celebrations. PS Thanks for the shout out 🙂

  4. Melissa says:

    You bet! You guys did a great job!

  5. Emily says:

    This is great! Do you have browsing bins or are the books on shelves still?

  6. Melissa says:

    Half and half! Some libraries already had bins, some were on shelves and purchased some bins, and all will have bins by the end of next year. I think it will be great to be all in bins. We still do a rough A-Z author sort within each category, so if you’re looking for Very Hungry Caterpillar, you can go to the Animals section and just look through the Cs. It’s not too bad for finding things.

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